On nudity, Baltimore's Block doesn't see eye to eye with the bench

June 22, 1991|By Rafael Alvarez and Sandra Crockett

On The Block, no one seemed to know or much care what the Supreme Court had to say yesterday about the way people make a living in the 300 and 400 blocks of East Baltimore Street.

"If you can be teased by a picture in Playboy where the nude girl is turned sideways, why shouldn't you be able to come down here and see the girl turned over?" said a 46-year-old maintenance man sitting in the Oasis Nite Club, one of Baltimore Street's dwindling number of bars where women dance onstage without clothes.

The Supreme Court said yesterday that state and local governments, like the one in Baltimore that for more than a decade has been dismantling the city's once-legendary strip of burlesque houses, have the right to ban nude dancing in barrooms and clubs.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said that erotic performances will be allowed as long as dancers wear G-strings and pasties.

"The city is going to jump on this new law quick, but we had better business years ago when everybody wore pasties and G-strings anyway, when there was a little left to the imagination," said a bartender at the Oasis, who like others on The Block declined to give his name.

G-strings or no strings attached, the future of The Block is dim, said a spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke in response to the court's decision.

"The mayor thinks it may have outlived its usefulness," Clint Coleman said. "It is unclear what effect this ruling will have on the future of The Block . . . but the mayor has indicated that the future of The Block is doubtful."

At least one dancer was indignant, saying her rights were being violated by the decision, and another was enraged when told the news.

"It's my right to dance nude," said a tall blond dancer at the Jewel Box. "As long as my right to freedom of expression doesn't hurt anyone."

A dark-haired dancer sitting next to her at the bar threw the argument back to society.

"When you decide to cut out Playboy, when you decide to cut out porno cable TV, then you hypocrites can cut out nude dancing, which God created," she said.

In Baltimore County, where the Body Talk club featuring nude dancers turned the community of Rockdale upside down in protest, residents were delighted at the news.

"I am overjoyed . . . simply overjoyed," said Ella White Campbell, president of the Liberty Road Community Corp.

"I think it is a very wise decision," said William Obriecht, who lives near the defunct club, which was located in the 8100 block of Liberty Road. "Barroom is not dancing in any of the traditional ways like ballet. It's really a show."

The club closed last month after a year of community protests, court fines and laws enacted specifically to shut it down.

Club owner Dominic Stenti had argued in vain before the Baltimore County Council and the courts that he had a constitutional right to run the club, where customers paid a $10 membership fee to play pool and watch women dance without clothes in a club that had no liquor license.

Protests from the community caused the council to pass legislation last summer banning striptease clubs that operated without a liquor license within 1,000 feet of a home, church, park, child-care center or school.

The General Assembly also passed an emergency law in the 1991 session that banned patrons from bringing alcohol to clubs that featured nude dancing and, like Body Talk, did not have a liquor license.

But no change in laws or decision by the Supreme Court could persuade the bartender at the Oasis that the end of nude dancing is near.

"There's going to be nude dancing somewhere when we're all gone, brother, believe me," he said.

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